Since the first Southern Women in Public Service conference in 1991, the Stennis Center has developed a reputation for supporting the advancement of women in public service leadership. This annual conference has become the most significant bipartisan gathering of women political leaders from across the South.
The conference aims to build a stronger America through tapping more extensively into the reservoir of talent, energy, intellect and courage that women bring to council tables where important decisions are made. It is a unique event because it brings together women from the local, state and federal levels and women from the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Joined with women from academia and business, a special synergy is created by rallying around the idea that women's leadership makes a difference.
This bipartisan gathering offers unparalleled networking opportunities, cutting edge skill-building workshops and nationally recognized speakers. Featuring many of America's most prominent women political leaders, the program has established a reputation for high quality speakers and participants. Speakers have included U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, former governors Kathleen Blanco, Martha Layne Collins and Ann Richards, former Attorney General Janet Reno, former Secretaries of Labor Elaine Chao, Alexis Herman and Lynn Martin, civil rights pioneers Unita Blackwell and Myrlie Evers-Williams, and ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts. Many of the women members of Congress from the South have participated over the years, including Marsha Blackburn, Corinne Brown, Eva Clayton, Tillie Fowler, Kay Granger, Sheila Jackson Lee, Denise Majette, Carrie Meek, Sue Myrick, Anne Northup, and Debbie Wasserman Shultz.
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said at one conference that more women are needed in public service leadership not just for fair representation, but also because research shows that women make a difference in both the public policy agenda and the process by which the policy is made.
Despite an impressive list of plenary and concurrent session speakers, the greatest benefits of the conference come from the relationships built between women from the local, state and federal levels who serve in the executive, legislative and judicial branches. "No other conference brings together such a diverse group of women political leaders," said North Carolina State Senator Katie Dorsett.
Yvonne Miller, who has the distinction of being the first black woman elected to both the Virginia House of Delegates and later State Senate, has attended every conference since 1998. "I never miss this event," she says, "because it recharges my public service batteries. The Stennis Center's women's conference is the best one for women in politics. They do a good job of attracting a diverse group of women leaders as both attendees and as presenters."
Kay Cobb, a former state legislator and the presiding justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, said, "I think one of the reasons for the success of this conference year after year is its bipartisanship. Regardless of political ideology, the women at this conference come together in a spirit of unity."
A highlight of the annual conference is presentation of the Lindy Boggs Award, which was established in 1995 to recognize a woman from the South who has demonstrated the ideals of patriotism, courage, integrity and leadership through public service that have characterized the life and career of the former U.S. Representative from Louisiana who also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Go to the Lindy Boggs Award page for a list of winners.
Participants say this conference reinvigorates them to pursue their goals in public service. The conference is also characterized by a bipartisan unity centered in the shared belief that bringing more women into public service leadership is a way to improve the quality and character of government leadership at all levels.
For more information on women and public service, visit the Center for American Women & Politics at Rutgers University. CAWP is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women's political participation.